EU foreign ministers agreed on the need to beef up sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime at talks in Cyprus on Saturday, said Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis.
“There is consensus also on the increase of sanctions in Syria,” she said, after announcing that the bloc’s 27 ministers were agreed on the need to massively strengthen humanitarian aid.
Meeting on an island as close as 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Syria for their first talks since the summer break, the ministers also urged the fractured Syrian opposition to unite and agreed to try to work with Russia in efforts to find a peaceful solution to the 18-month conflict.
The Cypriot minister said European nations believed it was important to work with Moscow, Assad’s main diplomatic and military supporter, despite anger over Russia and China vetoing three UN Security Council attempts to exert more pressure on Syria.
“We have to continue to work with Russia because we want to have them on board,” she said.
Belgium’s foreign policy chief, Didier Reynders, suggested one way of working with Russia would be to set up an international observer mission to ensure Syrian hospitals were kept open to the injured from both sides of the conflict.
In remarks to journalists at the close of two days of informal talks, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius too insisted on the need to respect humanitarian rights by maintaining hospital care open to all Syrians.
Regarding punitive action against the regime, Fabius said “if we want things to move, we must reinforce sanctions against the clan of (President) Bashar al-Assad.”
Details on new measures would be worked out by the office of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, he said.
“There is a general feeling that more pressure must be placed on the regime in order to end the violence and enable the distribution of humanitarian aid throughout the country,” added Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo.
Ashton urged the Syrian opposition to collaborate.
“It’s important that the people, whoever they are, feel they are part of that future,” she said.
Brussels on Friday announced an extra 50 million euros ($63 million) for civilians trapped in the conflict, bringing the EU contribution in all to 200 million euros, half of all international help.
“Humanitarian needs are rising rapidly,” said British Foreign Secretary William Hague. “We need additional contributions to the human effort urgently.”
The United Nations on Friday almost doubled its humanitarian appeal for Syria to $347 million, estimating that more than 2.5 million people need food and medical help in the country.
More than 1.2 million, more than half of them children, have become internally displaced in Syria, and some 200,000 refugees are massed in neighbours Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.
The informal brain-storming held in a classy Cypriot resort will set the tone within the EU for the weeks and months to come.
Hague said in a letter to Ashton seen by AFP that Europe needed to play a bigger role in resolving the Syrian crisis.
His counterparts from France and Italy, Fabius and Giulio Terzi, said in a separate message to Ashton that the crisis was at “a turning-point” and called for an extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers in New York this month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
They said that should the EU fail to help resolve the crisis, Europe’s security could be threatened from problems ranging from terror, arms proliferation and illegal immigration to energy security.
Europe’s answer to the challenge thrown up by potential migration flows and asylum seekers was to help countries such as Turkey and Jordan host the refugees on Syria’s border, ministers said.